- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Newt Gingrich vowed Tuesday that his 2012 run for the GOP presidential nomination will be free of the intellectual arrogance and personal disorganization that he concedes marred his tenure as speaker of the U.S. House in the 1990s.

One day before making his official announcement on Wednesday, the Georgia Republican told The Washington Times that he is confident he has the fundraising capacity and the key campaign staffers on board that he will need to win in 2012.

Mr. Gingrich, who cites a broader base of support and higher name recognition than other potential GOP candidates as strengths in his bid, figures he will need about $50 million to be competitive against potential rivals like Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mitt Romney, wealthy former governors who could use their own money to finance campaigns.

The former congressman will make his formal announcement Wednesday on Facebook and Twitter before an interview later in the day with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity.

He faces an uphill battle for the nomination. According to RealClearPolitics.com, Mr. Gingrich is the choice of about 8 percent of GOP voters, behind front-runners Mr. Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who are in the high teens, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and billionaire Donald Trump, who have each slipped but still score in the low teens.

Mr. Gingrich has recruited some of his party’s most sought-after campaign strategists and advisers and will conduct a unique 50-state “10th Amendment campaign” that throws out the old model of regional political directors. The campaign will rely instead, he said, on leadership and direction in each state from people who live in the state and understand the nuances of local politics.

The most striking thing about Mr. Gingrich’s re-entry into politics after a 10-year absence is his willingness to talk about his own foibles, from his backbencher strategist days after his first congressional election in 1978 through his House speakership in the mid-‘90s - topics rarely raised, even by his friends.

“My two biggest mistakes were being undisciplined and that I didn’t listen enough,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I am working very diligently to be part of a team and to be sure that the team leaders have a lot of input, along with me.”

Combative and confident, he was one of the most often-quoted House speakers in either party. He paid the price.

“I would talk to the press as a political analyst, instead of as speaker of the House,” said Mr. Gingrich, 67.

He was also one of the most headstrong politicians in either party, his closest friends confided at the time. He now says he has come to terms with that fact.

“There were a lot of people giving me constructive feedback, and I wasn’t listening,” he said, adding that he made major decisions without consulting all of his House leadership team.

As an example, he cited an $8.6 billion emergency disaster-relief bill that House Republicans passed despite opposition from almost all GOP leaders - except Mr. Gingrich. The bill was considered a capitulation to President Clinton and alienated many in his own party, Mr. Gingrich said. “A lot of them felt left in the lurch, and that left permanent bitterness toward me.”

In charge of the national Gingrich campaign is Rob Johnson, who ran Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2010 nomination and re-election campaigns, in which the incumbent governor came from 27 percentage points behind to beat challenger Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison by 21 points in the GOP primary. Mr. Perry then chalked up a 13-point victory over Democrat Bill White, the popular former Houston mayor - a margin that stunned even Mr. Perry’s campaign pollster.

“Rob is doing a great job of putting a campaign together,” Mr. Gingrich said.

The Gingrich national campaign will set up “a fairly large headquarters in Atlanta” and a “fairly small headquarters in Northern Virginia.”

Instead of the division of the country into geographic regions with regional political directors, the structure typically employed by presidential campaigns, the Gingrich organization will use what the candidate calls the “10th Amendment campaign.”

It’s a reference, he said, to the Constitution’s “federalist” amendment that reserves to the states and local governments all power not specifically granted to the federal government.

“Everything stays in the states, instead of someone from Washington telling the local people how to do the things that the local people know more about.

“We expect New Hampshirites to help carry New Hampshire, Iowans to do the same for Iowa, South Carolinians to do the job for their state, and so on,” Mr. Gingrich said.

There has been a methodical buildup of the Gingrich operation over the past few months even as some political observers openly doubted he actually would take the presidential plunge.

Mr. Gingrich has recruited people considered to be at the top of the game in politics.

Linda Upmeyer, Iowa’s first female House majority leader, will be chairman of his organization in Iowa, which will be the first state to hold a presidential nomination caucus next year.

He has locked up the services of two other sought-after advisers to Texas Mr. Perry: Craig Schoenfeld, who ran George W. Bush’s fundraising organization in Iowa in 2004, and Dave Carney, the New Hampshire-based political consultant.

He also has recruited former Polk County, Iowa, co-chairman and experienced campaign operative Will Rogers.

Former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, considered one of the state’s most talented political operators, will run Mr. Gingrich’s operation there, he said.

Mr. Dawson’s membership in an all-white country club led to his loss to Michael S. Steele in the 2009 election for chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But Mr. Dawson hired the state GOPs first black executive director, and Mr. Gingrich’s leadership in the House GOP’s explicitly anti-racist Conservative Opportunity Society caucus helps insulate Mr. Gingrich from any claims of racial prejudice.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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